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Background: Ruling Afghanistan

Margaret Warner talks to New York Times correspondent David Rhode about the political situation in Afghanistan a day before the new interim Afghan government takes power.

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  • MARGARET WARNER:

    The new interim government is the first to come to power peacefully in Afghanistan in nearly 20 years. Its 30 members were chosen at a conference in Bonn earlier this month. They will hold power for just six months, until a Loya Jirga, or Grand Council, can be held to choose a more permanent government. David Rhode of the New York Times is covering the story in Kabul. I talked with him this afternoon. Welcome, David. Thanks for joining us.

  • DAVID ROHDE:

    Thank you.

  • MARGARET WARNER:

    First, give us an idea: What is the atmosphere like in Kabul on the eve of this new government taking power?

  • DAVID ROHDE:

    It's interesting. Delegations from around the world and around the country have arrived here. The intercontinental hotel, which has been packed with journalists is until now, is actually full of Afghans. We've got men from western Afghanistan showing up dressed in white turbans. Across the room from them are Northern Alliance military commanders from northern Afghanistan, and sitting in the middle of them are… Is a delegation from another part of the country. You can see heavy weapons being removed from the city tonight. That's part of the Bonn agreement to demilitarize the city. And lots of… There's some heightened security, but it's generally very calm here and people are very excited. They've… The average people here are exhausted from the fighting and desperate for this government to work.

  • MARGARET WARNER:

    So what's going to actually happen tomorrow?

  • DAVID ROHDE:

    Tomorrow there will be a formal ceremony. Each will be a peaceful transition of power here, which is, you know, a remarkable occurrence. Burhanuddin Rabbani, who is the head of the Northern Alliance, who was… Briefly controlled Kabul and president of Afghanistan in the early 199 he was driven from the city by the Taliban but he retained the title of president and some international recognition as president. He will be turning power over to Hamid Karzai, who was chosen as chairman of the interim government in the Bonn conference. And then there will be 29 heads of different departments here that will then be sworn in by Mr. Karzai after he's sworn in, and a military honor guard will then present themselves to Mr. Karzai. He, actually, at one point will be escorting Mr. Rabbani to a car and will wave to him good- bye. But it's a real triumph, I think, for this country if this is pulled off.

  • MARGARET WARNER:

    Tell us a little about Mr. Karzai and how has he been getting ready for this. He has been in Kabul for what, ten days or so now?

  • DAVID ROHDE:

    He came here ten days ago. In what was, in a sense, at least a politically risky arrival. He showed up in the city, which was controlled by the Northern Alliance, which is military men with ethnic Tajiks — showed up on a delegation on a U.N. Plane and trusted the Northern Alliance with his security and they actually have embraced him. The leadership in the Northern Alliance has gone out of its way to show some ethnic unity here. He met with leaders here in the capital and then flew off to meetings in London, and then met with Rome with the former king, Zahir Shah. And in terms of Mr. Karzai himself, he is an ethnic Pasthutn. That's the largest ethnic group in the country. He's from Kandahar area, which is in southern Afghanistan. And he comes from sort of aristocratic family, a very prominent family and a Pasthutn tribe in southern Afghanistan. And you know, he appears to be doing his best to bridge the gaps here between ethnic groups.

  • MARGARET WARNER:

    And what about some of the other top members of this government? You've written about this triumvirate of young leaders right under Mr. Karzai.

  • DAVID ROHDE:

    Yeah. One of the interesting things is to watch here… Mr. Karzai will be included in terms of his age. The four top leaders are all younger generation of almost technocrats who are trying to show that they're different from the older generation, such as Mr. Rabbani, that sort of let the government fall apart into the civil war, which has ravaged the country. And the three leaders beneath Karzai are the defense, interior and foreign ministers. That's General Mohammad Fahim, Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, and Kanuni. They're all young, actual former aides of Ahmed Shah Massoud– I'm sorry– Ahmed Shah Massoud, the leader of the Northern Alliance that was assassinated, it appears, by members of al-Qaida. — they are… They've really emerged after Massoud's death as a real force here. There's some fear that they may be too strong and they could overshadow Karzai. They do control the three most powerful ministries. But to their credit, they say they gave up power here. They let Mr. Karzai become chairman. They're going to let him, you know, easily the most powerful official here tomorrow when they control the city militarily. And they promise that they're different and they promise a new form of governance here.

  • MARGARET WARNER:

    The first members of this British-led U.N. peacekeeping force arrived, I understand, last night. Are they visible yet in Kabul?

  • DAVID ROHDE:

    They… Frankly, they didn't have an auspicious start. The reason they're here officially is to provide security so that new members of Mr. Karzai's administration who are not members of the Northern Alliance, you know, who are not ethnic Tajiks, could feel comfortable when they came into the city. The royal Marines were at the airport today, available to escort newly arriving members of the government into the city so they would feel safe. What happened was that none of the newly arriving members asked for an escort.

  • MARGARET WARNER:

    There are also reports here on the wires of a difference between, I guess the U.N. mandate for this force in terms of being able to use force and carry weapons, and what Mr. Fahim, the defense minister is saying. What can you tell us about that?

  • DAVID ROHDE:

    There's both sides have left the agreement to the — vague –so they can sell it to their own constituencies. What the arrangement appears to be is that the British will go out joint patrols with the Afghans. When they're out on the patrols, they're free to use force if they want to but it is going to be coordinated by the Afghans.

  • MARGARET WARNER:

    All right. Well, David, thank you very much for joining us.

  • DAVID ROHDE:

    Thank you.

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